Apple turns to supply chains ethics as emissions tumble

Tech giant Apple has revealed that it cut carbon emissions by almost 14,000 tonnes in 2015, as the firm continued its drive to improve supply chain sustainability and ethics, its latest supplier responsibility report has revealed.

With almost three-quarters of its total carbon footprint found in the supply chain, Apple has carried out an extensive auditing process that has seen the company slash emissions by 13,800 tonnes, save 3.8bn gallons of water and diverted more than 73,000 metric tonnes of waste from landfill.

Apple has built up an impressive track record in regards to energy efficiency in its operations, but with a BBC Panorama episode highlighting poor working conditions in China in 2014 – many workers were being subjected to working 18 days in a row – the company has acted to rectify these misdemeanours.

In letter published in the report, Apple’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams said: “In 2015, work-hour compliance among our suppliers reached 97%, a number that is virtually unheard of in our industry. Since 2008, more than 9.2 million workers have been trained on their rights, more than 1.4 million people have participated in Apple educational programs, and more than $25.6m in excessive recruitment fees have been repaid to foreign contract workers by suppliers as a result of our efforts.”

In total, Apple carried out 640 audits across its supply chain in 2015. In the aftermath of these audits, more than 25,000 follow-up visits – every 30, 60 and 90 days – were conducted to ensure working conditions weren’t compromised. Each facility was then graded on more than 500 data points corresponding to Apple’s Code of Conduct.

The company noted that it had seen ‘significant progress in the environmental focus’ from its suppliers, with only eight sites violating standards in regards to pollution – down from 15 in 2014. Apple claims that support has since been offered to help these facilities install treatment equipment to rectify any issues.

The report noted that Apple launched its Clean Energy Program in 2015 to help suppliers make the shift to renewable power sources. A big focus area was China, where the company has targeted 2.2GW of new clean energy capacity. The firm believes this will reduce supply chain emissions by 20 million tonnes by 2020.

Conflict minerals

As well as ensuring ethical practices are carried out in regards to child labour and 60-hour workweeks – 2015 saw compliance rise by 5% in this regard – Apple has put a greater emphasis on supply chain ethics in regards to conflict minerals.

After a five year effort which concluded in December, Apple is now independently auditing 100% of its suppliers over conflict minerals, which the company claims has ‘improved sourcing practices for smelters and the mining industry as a whole’. For 2016 the company will focus on enhancing these practices by conversing with authorities over any related armed groups in areas where suppliers operate.

Apple’s efforts in supply chain ethics comes after it was revealed that increasing supply chain traceability and integrating human rights into the adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts are among the most significant issues effecting sustainability and CSR professionals.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie